Never say never again.
The long downtrodden Springstead boys tennis program finally enjoyed its day in the sun, albeit amidst a grey and overcast backdrop, Wednesday at the James Valentine Sports Complex at River Ridge.
The Eagles snapped a 33-year district drought by claiming their first-ever team title following the two-day, 20-hour, eight-team Class 3A, District 6 Tournament in West Pasco County.
Springstead, which finished tantalizingly close last spring losing a tiebreaker for first place on Day 3 versus Land O’ Lakes, totaled 16 points followed by Mitchell (12), Land O’ Lakes (11), Leesburg (four), Sunlake, River Ridge and Zephyrhills (tied with two points apiece), and eighth-place Central (zero).
With the win, the Spring Hill netters (13-2) will host 3A-5 runner-up Ocala-Forest in Tuesday’s 3A-Region III semifinal next Tuesday at Delta Woods Park.
Forest fell in the 3A-5 Tourney at the Jonesville Tennis Center to loaded Gainesville, 18-10.
Meanwhile, 3A-6 runner-up Mitchell journeys to Alachua County to face the 3A-6 champion Hurricanes.
Springstead’s second-year mentor Joe Nicolai earned his seventh district championship trophy – including six from 1999-2007 with the Central girls.
“This is very sweet,” indicated Nicolai. “This was our goal all season, it’s what we focused on and talked about every day in practice. Honestly, I would have been disappointed if we had not won.
“Give credit to Mitchell and Land O’ Lakes. We knew coming in both of those teams would be tough and they were,” said Nicolai. “It’s been an honor and a pleasure to coach these guys. I couldn’t ask for anyone else.
On the meet’s difference, “We started off with a three-hour doubles match that went three sets, and by the end of the day our guys were on empty,” noted Nicolai. “Back-to-back 10-hour shifts are pretty difficult for anybody.”
On his tourney MVP, “It’s pretty tough to choose between a guy who had never won a district title (Carl Zee) but won twice today and Hank (Deslaurier), who won twice and has four district championships.
“But our unsung guy is Robbie (Hoover),” Nicolai said. “That No. 2 doubles team came in here unseeded and beat the two top seeds. They could have easily dropped the first game and gone home. We lost to both Leesburg and Mitchell in doubles (in the regular season) and beat them both. That helped set the tone.
“And Robbie is a diabetic and played his guts out in the long three-set matches. I really don’t know how he was still standing up. I think we just followed his determination.”
Springstead rode five finalists to its first-ever crown behind four district champions: the senior Zee captured No. 2 singles while junior Hank Deslaurier won at No. 3 singles, and both doubles teams won.
The sophomore Hoover played a pivotal role reaching the No. 4 singles finals before losing to top-seeded Mitchell sophomore Zach Hovespian in a tense, three-set battle, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
To reach the finals, the second-seeded Hoover (13-4) was extended twice by solving Sunlake junior Aaron Aucoin, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, and Land O’ Lakes frosh Jeff Gu, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
At No. 1 doubles, top-seeded Patrick Deslaurier/Zee swept three matches.
On Tuesday, the Eagle duo topped Sunlake’s Brandon Jungbauer/Derek Walters, 6-1, 6-1, and Zephyrhills’ Luis Cardenas/Stephen Belles, 6-0, 6-1.
In Wednesday’s final, Patrick Deslaurier/Zee turned back Mitchell’s Daniel Lukish/Tony Nguyen, 6-2, 7-5.
With the triumph, Deslaurier/Zee (13-2) automatically qualified for the Class 3A FHSAA Finals on April 15-17 at Altamonte Springs’ Sanlando Park.
“This (advancing to states) is surreal,” smiled the 18-year-old Zee, who’s played for the Eagles for four seasons. “I never really thought I’d ever go to states. I’m not sure this is happening now.”
Describing the key to his first-ever first-place district blue ribbon, Zee said, “In the second set we were down 5-2 and I told myself, ‘We’re not going three sets.’ At that point we both calmed down and worked on our consistency. With that approach, we took five straight games.
“I thought, overall, my ground strokes were really on,” added Zee. “I think staying patient helped us win points. Going to states in tennis is something no one else from Springstead’s boys team has ever done; it feels pretty cool right now.”
“This is sweet,” added his partner Patrick Deslaurier. “Normally, we play like peanut butter and jelly, except for how we began.
“I’d agree with Carl, being consistent was the big key. We didn’t hit the ball hard; we just placed it well.”
At No. 2 doubles, Hank Deslaurier and Hoover were the unsung heroes. The Eagle duo went in unseeded and wrecked the bracket crushing No. 2 seeded Christian Howard/Cole Bushman of Leesburg, 6-4, 6-2.
Next, the Eagle duo throttled Kyle James/Dylan Lutz of River Ridge, 6-2, 6-2.
In the finals, H. Deslaurier/Hoover (13-3) rallied for a come-from-behind win over Greg and Zach Hovespian of Mitchell, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Earlier in the season, the Hovespian brothers prevailed, 6-2, 7-5.
“We messed up to open the match going down 4-1 in the first set,” recalled the 17-year-old Hank Deslaurier. “That isn’t how we wanted to play especially after losing to them earlier in the year.”
On the key to winning his second straight doubles title, “We certainly didn’t want to lose. Mitchell was very close to us in the standings,” pointed out Deslaurier. “We refocused and just focused on keeping our shots in and allowing them to make the mistakes.
“Winning a second district doubles title is very nice.”
“I thought the key was we had good teamwork,” explained the 16-year-old Hoover. “How else do we beat two seeded teams to win? We communicated a lot which really helped.”
Zee, who finished runner-up last spring at No. 1 singles losing to current East Carolina product Colin Roller, steamrolled a trio of opponents.
On Tuesday the top-seeded Zee bageled Zephyrhills’ Stephen Belles, 6-0, 6-0, before bopping Greg Hovespian, 6-0, 6-4. Earlier in the season, Zee had dispatched of Hovespian, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.
In the finals, Zee snuffed Land O’ Lakes sophomore Chris Mo, 6-3, 6-0.
“Winning districts in singles has always been out of my reach until this year,” declared Zee, who climbed to 13-4. “When I was a freshman we had to go through Wiregrass and the last two years I had to deal with Colin.
“This year there was an opening for me at No. 2,” he said. “I have no regrets about not playing No. 1 for districts. I think it was better for the team to have Patrick (Deslaurier) play there. Before the tourney I said to myself, ‘This is it for me. It’s now or never (to win a district singles title).’
“What I liked most? That I came out guns blazing from the first serve,” recalled Zee. “This means so much. It took me four years to get this far.”
Deslaurier, who entered as the second seed, dunked River Ridge senior Kyle Jaimes, 6-4, 6-1 before expunging Zephyrhills’ Luke Messina, 7-5, 6-3.
On Wednesday, Deslaurier (15-2) solved unseeded Land O’ Lakes freshman Samvit Iyer, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0.
Iyer turned in perhaps the tourney’s biggest upset ousting top-seeded Tony Nguyen of Mitchell in the semifinals, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
On what a difference a year made, “There were a lot of tough teams here this year,” noted the 17-year-old Deslaurier. “I wasn’t serving well until my last match. The key was I was playing the corners.
“The last kid (Iyer) was very good. He’s a fine player,” said Deslaurier. “I beat him during the regular season, but it was a much tougher match this time.”
On toting home Springstead’s first-ever team trophy, “This is huge,” said Deslaurier. “I’m going to dedicate this to the whole team. I think everyone got a win. I thought Hoover really played amazing. He was literally out there all day. To his credit, he never gave up.”
3A-6 Boys Tennis Tourney Standings at New Port Richey-River Ridge Middle/High School
PL. TEAM POINTS
1. Spring Hill-Springstead (SPG) 16
2. New Port Richey-Mitchell (MIT) 12
3. Land O’ Lakes (LOL) 11
4. Leesburg (LEES) 4
5. Land O’ Lakes-Sunlake (SNL) 2
5. Zephyrhills (ZEP) 2
5. New Port Richey-River Ridge (RR) 2
8. Brooksville-Central (CEN) 0
Springstead’s 3A-6 Individual Results
Singles W L PL
Patrick Deslaurier 1 1 -
Carl Zee 3 0 1st
Hank Deslaurier 3 0 1st
Robert Hoover 2 1 2nd
Marcel Leaman 1 1 -
TOTALS 10 3
Doubles W L PL
P. Deslaurier/Zee 3 0 1st
H. Deslaurier/Hoover 3 0 1st
TOTALS 6 0
Central’s 3A-6 Individual Results
Singles W L PL
Jacob Middaugh 0 1 -
Mateo Cordero 0 1 -
Derek Zhang 0 1 -
Justin Battle 0 1 -
Tony Mendez 0 1 -
TOTALS 0 5 -
Doubles W L PL
Middaugh/Zhang 0 1 -
Battle/Codero 0 1 -
TOTALS 0 2 –
David Dollbaum (LOL) def. Brandon Jungbauer (SNL), 6-0, 6-0.
William Whitehouse (LEES) def. Alex Koutsos (RR), 7-6 (8-6), 6-4.
Daniel Lukish (MIT) def. Jacob Middaugh (CEN), 6-0, 6-0.
Patrick Deslaurier (SPG) def. Luis Cardenas (ZEP), 6-1, 6-0.
David Dollbaum (LOL) def. William Whitehouse (LEES), 6-1, 6-1.
Daniel Lukish (MIT) def. Patrick Deslaurier (SPG), 7-5, 4-6, 6-0.
Daniel Lukish (MIT) def. David Dollbaum (LOL), 6-4, 6-3.
Carl Zee (SPG) def. Stephen Belles (ZEP), 6-0, 6-0.
Greg Hovsepian (MIT) def. Tyler Simpson (SNL), 6-2, 6-0.
Chris Mo (LOL) def. Mateo Cordero (CEN), 6-0, 6-0.
Christian Howard (LEES) def. Steven Devinney (RR), 6-3, 6-1.
Carl Zee (SPG) def. Greg Hovsepian (MIT), 6-0, 6-4.
Chris Mo (LOL) def. Christian Howard (LEES), 7-5, 6-2.
Carl Zee (SPG) def. Chris Mo (LOL), 6-3, 6-0.
Hoang “Tony” Nguyen (MIT) def. Derek Walters (SNL)., 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
Samvit Iyer (LOL) def. Cole Bushman (LEES), 6-1, 7-5.
Luke Messina (ZEP) def. Derek Zhang (CEN), 6-2, 6-0.
Hank Deslaurier (SPG) def. Kyle Jaimes (RR), 6-4, 6-1.
Samvit Iyer (LOL) def. Hoang “Tony” Nguyen (MIT), 7-5, 3-6, 7-5.
Hank Deslaurier (SPG) def. Luke Messina (ZEP), 7-5, 6-3.
Hank Deslaurier (SPG) def. Samvit Iyer (LOL), 7-6 (7-3), 6-0.
Zach Hovsepian (MIT) def. Dylan Lutz (RR), 6-2, 6-0.
Howie Lin (LEES) def. Thad Anderton (ZEP), 6-1, 6-2.
Jeff Gu (LOL) def. Justin Battle (CEN), 6-1, 6-1.
Robert Hoover (SPG) def. Aaron Aucoin (SNL), 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Zach Hovsepian (MIT) def. Howie Lin (LEES), 6-4, 6-2.
Robert Hoover (SPG) def. Jeff Gu (LOL), 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Zach Hovsepian (MIT) def. Robert Hoover (SPG), 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
Ben Peppers (LEES) def. Taylor Lutz (RR), 6-2, 6-1.
Chris Wilkinson (SNL) won by forfeit Tony Mendez (CENT).
Marcel Leaman (SPG) def. Jacob Vaughn (ZEP), 6-0, 6-0.
Eric Lee (LOL) def. Gerick Rynard (MIT), 6-2, 6-1.
Chris Wilkinson (SNL) def. Ben Peppers (LEES), 6-4, 6-3.
Eric Lee (LOL) def. Marcel Leaman (SPG), 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.
Eric Lee (LOL) def. Chris Wilkinson (SNL), 6-3, 6-3.
P. Deslaurier/Zee (SPG) def. Jungbauer/Walters (SNL), 6-1, 6-1.
Cardenas/Belles (ZEP) def. Whitehouse/Peppers (LEES), 6-3, 6-2.
Koutsos/DeVinney (RR) def. Middaugh/Zhang (CEN), 6-4, 6-0.
Lukish/Nguyen (MIT) def. Dollbaum/Iyer (LOL), 6-3, 0-6, 6-1.
P. Deslaurier/Zee (SPG) def. Cardenas/Belles (ZEP), 6-0, 6-1.
Lukish/Nguyen (MIT) def. Koutsos/DeVinney (RR), 6-0, 6-4.
P. Deslaurier/Zee (SPG) def. Lukish/Nguyen (MIT), 6-2, 7-5.
G. Hovsepian/Z. Hovsepian (MIT) def. Messina/Anderton (ZEP), 6-3, 6-0.
C. Mo/ J. Gu (LOL) def. Aucoin/Wilkinson (SNL), 6-3, 6-0.
Jaimes/Lutz (RR) def. Battle/Codero (CEN), 6-1, 6-2.
H. Deslaurier/Hoover (SPG) def. Howard/Bushman (LEES), 6-4, 6-2.
G. Hovsepian/Z. Hovsepian (MIT) def. C. Mo/ J. Gu (LOL), 6-2, 6-1.
H. Deslaurier/Hoover (SPG) def. Jaimes/Lutz (RR), 6-2, 6-2.
H. Deslaurier/Hoover (SPG) def. G. Hovsepian/Z. Hovsepian (MIT), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.